Confessions of a Thoroughly Modern Yenta

If you had told me five years ago that I would meet my husband through a dating service, move across the state and become a modern matchmaker, well, that would have taken a leap of faith I wouldn’t have been prepared to make.

In those days, when my divorce and ensuing sorrows began, the nineteenth was my century of choice. By the casual eye, I’d been compared to Jane Austen’s spirited Emma, but I knew I was more like Emma Bovary. Majestic misery seemed to be my destiny and I thought I carried it off well, despite my occasional forays into laughter. I do remember, though, the precise moment when my stance began to shift.

I’d been curled up in the all-too-common fetal position, when a voice over the radio jolted me out of a stupor. "The novel of romantic love is dead," I heard an author announce, summing up her new book. With the divorce rate high and cynicism run rampant, no one today, she said, would buy the idea of throwing themselves onto train tracks for love.

Throwing off my tear-stained covers, I jumped to attention and ran up the stairs. "How could this be?" I prodded my best friend, whose family had taken me in while I went through a divorce after a 30-year marriage. Was I the only modern to play the Anna Karenina card, complete with fur-trimmed black coat? Perhaps I was a tad offbeat, I even wore my hair up, but was I a complete anachronism? Didn’t I cut quite a mysterious figure, peering up whenever possible from my wide-brimmed black hat? Surely I appealed to many an imagination besides my own?

Now, I did have a day job, it’s true. But in the off-hour, I slinked into my cozy cocoon and my real role. Pulling the shades down, I lit scented candles and pined with hopeless desperation for a lost marriage, a brief obsessive unrequited love and life as I knew it. Surely others also pondered who would play them in the Merchant Ivory rendition of their lives?

The angst lingered and my best friend continued to comfort and bear all until, as that author and my therapist would have predicted, I emerged one day from my room, tossed away the handkerchiefs and declared myself healed. And ready to tiptoe into a new era.

Happily, the universe was waiting to provide. Tiptoe astonishingly turned tap dance in short order: the e-mail from a stranger that would change my life forever brought chills to my friend’s spine. “He writes just like you!” she gasped. And almost before you knew it, I had packed my bags, black coat, and worldly goods and left my beloved community of twenty years behind.

Last year my husband and I married and we now run our own state- of -the -art computer dating service in western Massachusetts, but the matches we make are fueled, as you might guess, by a romantic’s intuition.

From morning until night I am privileged to hear stories and secrets, fears and fantasies. I’ve learned firsthand that my affair with romance a la the nineteenth century, while conducted with great panache, is assuredly not mine alone. Through others I have come to see that, while we may not fling our bodies onto train tracks, it takes perhaps more courage and leaps of faith to risk our hearts to the perils and pleasures of everyday love.

And I have come to see just how pervasive that timeless longing for connection is. Why, even friends who put their bodies on the line for their convictions get a glimmer in their eyes when they reflect on the journey that I’ve taken and the old-fashioned/modern work that I do.

For it is my job, now, to nudge the universe to provide for widowers who yearn for the kind of soulmate with which they had once been blessed, and to coax destiny to provide young people the experience of what that connection feels like. It is my calling to encourage and comfort divorcees who’ve forgotten how to date, and breast cancer survivors who wonder if they have the right to go forward.

And it is my story that gives hope to those who have stuffed clippings about us into a drawer for a year, waiting until they “got their nerve up.” One woman summed it up this way on her wrinkled and coffee-stained application, “I’m tired of being a me in a world of we.”

From my new, never-imagined home office, I can thus report that though a single life can be a fulfilling choice, the yearning for some kind of romantic happy ending is still very much alive in the twenty-first century here in western Massachusetts.

Maybe they had it right about me five years ago, after all. Jane Austen’s Emma was, of course, a misguided matchmaker. But with the help of the black hat that my husband gave me, I’m happily on a much truer track.

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